By Way of Introduction

You can lead a horse to the polls, but you can't make him vote. They would have to modify the booth to accommodate his horse shape.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Truth is Stranger than Fiction

Like so many in the world today I have to remind myself daily that the shitstorm going on around me is actual reality. Real live Life. Crazier than anything Hollywood has cooked up, more dystopian and sinister than a Bond movie written by Cormac McCarthy. And so my normal habit of dismissing conspiracy theories as too ridiculous to have merit has come to a screeching halt. In fact, I have a few of my own surrounding recent events in our government and the world. Here, for your amusement, is my latest:

For this bit, the part of Putin shall be played by you, the reader. Trump has been installed as POTUS through a complex series of propaganda attacks, election/ballot machine and database hacking, plus some good timing and luck. He is, of course, an invaluable asset for you, and you've got so much dirt on him that a fleet of backhoes couldn't dig him out from under your thumb. A former KGB agent's wet dream: your mole is the King of the Moles, and you'll do anything to keep this guy in office. He's the best thing to happen to Russia since vodka. And you're so ethically and morally bankrupt you didn't even need a good reason to be nefarious, but you've got a damn good one here.

That's you behind the Iron Curtain, wizarding your Oz.
You're already entrenched in Syria. Your man Trump desperately, DESPERATELY needs a distraction - a dog to wag that's big enough to make people forget, even temporarily, that he's bought and paid for by a zillion different factions. You coordinate a chemical weapons attack, ostensibly carried out by the Assad regime, to take the heat off in the States, to give Trump an opportunity to seem decisive, presidential, and independent of his puppet master (That's you. Remember, you're Putin in this narrative). You order the attack. Your men dutifully carry it out. The world is outraged. As a bonus, they will for a time stop talking about your penchant for using nerve gas on YOUR citizens. Win win! Now, Trumpy can bomb the shit out of some airfields or warehouses that you've already evacuated and you can retaliate somehow, escalating the hostilities until your primary objective is fulfilled. Trump can appear to have stood up to you, you can appear to have stared him right back down, and you will both benefit from a fleeting boost to your approval ratings. 

And this was from a year ago. Deja vu anyone?
Okay. You're not Putin anymore. Sorry to do that to you, but it was an efficient way to get you to where I was.

Aside from the obvious, I have another concern about this completely likely scenario playing out, and it involves chess. Putin thinks several moves ahead in his game, while Trump wants to know why you can't just play checkers instead. I can see Putin and Assad moving some chemical weapon components to likely air strike targets, then claiming the U.S. used chemical weapons in their attack. It's not likely to gain much traction, and it's only one of the things an enemy could do when they're given advance warning of attacks (see previous post) but it's a possibility. Unfortunately, even if Trump is doing all this unwittingly - being led around by the nose by someone much craftier than he - it's all to easy to goad him into predictable reactions. Fact. And he keeps firing everyone who attempts to check his foolishness. Every day that goes by with this guy in charge is a crapshoot, and I'm not that kind of gambler. I don't think most Americans are.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The New New New New... Normal?

Every day I check in on the new lows our politicians have sunk to in pursuit of Guiness Record level sycophancy. Almost as often the Tweeter in Chief surprises me with some new lunacy. This morning it was this:
Why is this guy telling our soon-to-be-targets that we're coming??? Is he afraid Putin didn't get his voicemail informing him of our specific plans? If his actions cause our American service people to come to harm then he should be court martialed just like any other member of the military who betrays his fellow soldiers' plans of action. Please realize this is tongue-in-cheek, as the Commander in Chief is a symbolically civilian position, and therefore ineligible for such legal recourse. Still, to aid and abet an enemy is a high crime and should be treated as such regardless of title. Heck, even Donald Trump agrees that this was a horrible idea:
Nearly a year apart and he hadn't changed his mind about what a bad idea it was:

On top of this is all his bellyaching over his Fixer getting fixed, threats to fire everyone at the DOJ, threats from his dipshit cronies like Devin "Soon to be a prison bitch" Nunes to impeach the Director of the FBI Christopher Wray, as well as Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, ALL BECAUSE HE HAS NOTHING TO HIDE. NO COLLUSION.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, via Gertrude: "The orange man doth protest too much, methinks."

April 12 Update - After being eviscerated for telegraphing our plan of attack, including reports that Syria was moving troops to Russian outposts to avoid the coming wave of "nice and new and "smart!'" missiles, the Head Idiot at the White House attempted to backtrack through his medium of choice:

Just to remind you all, this treasonous lummox is sitting in the seat of power for the Western Hemisphere. Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Hyper Critical vs Hypocritical

I've got a confession to make: I am a hyper critical person. Some people call me (affectionately, I'm sure) a perfectionist; a micro-manager; an ass. They all fit in their own way. I expect a lot of myself - morally and ethically, a certain level of cordiality and politeness, an ever-increasing standard for my own behavior and performance in all aspects of life. I don't always live up to those expectations, but I try to be kind to myself in reviewing my day and how I was better or worse than the previous day. After all, I'm a human and thus incapable of technical perfection. This is something I find incredibly important for my personal growth and gratification. I do not expect everyone else to have the same attitude, but I am going to judge them according to the same standards by which I judge myself. Having said that, I adjust for an abundance of factors, including but not limited to: education, financial circumstances, age and upbringing. It's not a perfect system, but it's an honest attempt to maintain expectations while allowing for circumstantial differences.

HOWEVER, I believe that there is still a minimum standard we can apply to everyone - the least we can do, if you will. In a polite society, that means being... polite. That means being even-handed and fair in our assessments, even if we are keeping a higher-than-average set of expectations. Nothing wrong with raising the bar. There is an unavoidable peril we invite upon ourselves when we give one person a pass for something that we revile another for. We lose the moral high ground, the dais upon which we pontificate from is diminished with every hypocritical statement, until our words no longer carry the weight necessary to roll down an ever-decreasing incline to our audience.

That is what is happening in Washington, D.C. right now. Has been for years, of course, but recent events have hastened the leveling of that shining city on the hill, leaving no more than a shanty town - a movie set, whose walls are perilously close to collapsing in the next stiff breeze. "Rock Ridge East," one might say.

What gave it away? Was it the shrubbery?
How are we going to claw our way out of the hole being dug - nay, bulldozed, in the middle of our democracy? How do we keep a straight face while talking out of both sides of our mouths? I say "our" and "we" because as a country we have failed. Failed to elect based on merit, failed to hold our representatives' feet to the proverbial fire on issues like corporate malfeasance, gun control, the environment, equality for all, etc., etc., etc. And we have failed to stand up to the would-be demagogue currently occupying Pennsylvania Avenue's most storied residence. Our Republican representatives are in the spotlight at the moment because of their spineless pandering and appeasement tactics, but rest assured that the other side of the aisle would be in my crosshairs (poor choice of words, but I'm sticking to them) were the situation reversed.

It's absolutely maddening. Every day the already impossibly low bar is somehow lowered. What would have been unacceptable behavior for the previous president or administration is now even more laughable than it was yesterday, than it was the day before that, which was more ludicrous than we could imagine last week, which was in turn unthinkable last month, and so on. All made possible by power-mad politicians, lobbyists, special interests, and a system that rewards underhandedness, thievery, and outright lies. This has been building for years, decades even, sometimes with small steps, other times leaps. Representative democracy has taken body blow after body blow, from those sworn to uphold the Constitution. Citizen's United equaled Corporations Untied, seeming to guarantee that the more money you had at your disposal to throw at different congresspersons and issues the more say you were going to have in the laws that shape our landscape for all. Let's not fool ourselves by pretending that our government hadn't been bought and paid for long before that bewildering decision by the Supreme Court. That case simply cemented the blocks that were already in place, made them larger and more difficult to overcome.

But I digress. We're discussing civility and manners, fairness and culpability. Where are the heroes of democracy, willing to stand up to those who would taint, undermine, or outright seek to destroy the idea of America? The GOP controlled Senate broke with all form of rationale by refusing to consider candidates for a vacant Supreme Court seat because... well, it doesn't matter what excuse they used. It was bullshit. I cannot even imagine the ballyhoo should the situation have been reversed, from all corners of Conservative World. There would have been talk of revolt and armed insurrection. Come to think of it, it would have been quite like what we were fearing would happen when Trump inevitably lost the election. And then he didn't. All the talk about how the voting process was rigged, how there was no way "they" would "let" him win... forgotten in the blink of a collective eye. Now anyone questioning the system, the process, the establishment, the outcome - they were just sore losers. Hypocritical much? Yes. Yes indeed.

And now daily there are actual threats to our way of life, our beloved Constitution (much more serious threats than those to the Second Amendment) and to the rule of law. And those empowered by us to curtail those impulses, to stop those attacks, to censure or remove from office those who are responsible? They do nothing. After all, it's THEIR GUY. This piece of garbage masquerading as a President, who most of them were appalled by (or so they said) in the primary season? Now he's THEIR GUY. They own him. They're hitching their wagons to his team of horses, even though none of his horses can get security clearance. What a sham. If there is any justice in this world they'll all go down with him when he goes, because all who stand by and say nothing are culpable. All who defend the daily atrocities committed against our system of government, and law and order, and accountability, and transparency, are culpable. They should be tried as accessories to the murder of American democracy.

We can change this though. There is a simple litmus test to determine if your criticisms should remain unspoken, unwritten, untweeted: If you wouldn't mind if YOUR guy was doing it, then KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT. Simple. If it wasn't okay for Obama to reach out to North Korea, to try to engage them in talks, then it's not okay for Trump. If it wouldn't be fine for Obama to congratulate a murderous dictator on his recent election "win" then it's not okay for Trump. If it wasn't okay for Obama to golf on occasion, then it's not okay for Trump to do it one to three times a week. If it wasn't okay for Bill Clinton to have a cigar with Monica, then it's not okay for Trump to cheat on his wives - all of them - with anyone, much less a porn star or two. This isn't that hard, folks. I'll be hyper critical of your guy, but anything I go after him for I am going to hold my own guy to as well. I still find it ludicrous the type of thing that right-wing media would trash Obama for (tan suit, the "wrong" kind of mustard on his burger, etc.) but I understand that it was difficult for them to find anything of substance to go after. The petulant child that's currently sullying the Oval Office isn't treated more unfairly, it's just that he offers soooooooooooooooooooo many things to denigrate him for that it's a never-ending litany. Trump apologists must understand that one expects more negative press for Stalin than for Gandhi, though there will always be folks like Tucker Carlson who would find the latter's sanctimonious fasting something to deride.

I guess the Colluder in Chief finally stepped on a nerve over the weekend when he started trashing (Republican) Robert Mueller and the Special Counsel investigating his many misdeeds. A few previously silent officials on the red side of the aisle came out with warnings not to mess with Mueller. Jesus, guys. Too little too late. Quite probably the only reason they've decided to make a stand now is the recent pummeling they've taken at the polls, coupled with their inability to move the bar lower. Assuming Mueller is afforded the luxury of completing his investigation there will be a lot of rats trying to leave the sinking Trumptanic at the last minute. Here's hoping that aeration takes them all to Davy Jones' Locker anyway.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Russia, Russia, Russia!**

**Please read the title in a whiny Marsha-meets-Trump voice for full effect.

At this point there are so many Russia-related topics dominating the national discussion that it's difficult to keep them all sorted. The one about Russians dropping dead all over the place is one that has gotten only a little attention - mostly as a curiosity. With recent events in Britain it (Theresa) may be time to pay it more heed.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, who has formally accused Russia of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia last week in Salisbury, wasted no time in expelling 23 Russian diplomats from Britain. She followed that up with a call for an emergency meeting of the UN to address this and other similar crimes with which the Kremlin has been involved on a worldwide basis. And make no mistake - they've been very busy cavorting about, full KGB-style, as if they're doing research on a new series of Bond films. 

In what may be considered a surprise move, Mr. Trump agreed that all the evidence supports May's assertion that Russia was behind the nerve gas attack. However, the administration has yet to offer any clues as to what our tepid response will ultimately entail.

Anyone else have something to say??
Here is a brief list of the Russian diplomats who've reached strange and untimely ends... all since the election in November 2016:

  • November 8, 2016 - Sergei Krivov, Russian Consulate Duty Commander - in charge of securing the consulate from sabotage and intrusion. He died at the Russian Consulate in New York on the morning of the election. First reports had him dying from a fall from the roof of the building. Russia would later change that story to claim Krivov suffered a heart attack. Officers at the scene reported a blunt-force head wound, while still later the New York medical examiner stated that Krivov died of internal bleeding related to a tumor. One life to live, but apparently three deaths to give.
  • December 19, 2016 - Andrei Karlov, Russian Ambassador to Turkey. He was shot by a police officer at an art exhibit in Ankara.
  • December 19, 2016 - Petr Polshikov, Russian Foreign Ministry. Shot in his apartment in Moscow. Russian newspaper Moskovskij Komsomolets said Polshikov's wife found him in their bedroom with a pillow over his head. Underneath the pillow, police found Polshikov with a head wound.
  • December 26, 2016 - Oleg Erovinkin, former head of the KGB. According to The Telegraph Christo Grozev, an expert on Russia-related security threats, believes Erovinkin is the key source to whom Mr Steele refers in the infamous Trump dossier. Mr. Erovinkin was found dead in the back of his car in Moscow. Initial reports that he had been killed were updated quickly to state that he had succumbed to (what else?) a heart attack. Sure. For more on this story follow the link.
  • January 9, 2017 - Andrei Malanin, Russian Consul in Athens, Greece. He was found dead in his apartment January 9. One whole day later the Russian Consulate issued a statement saying that "forensic experts" concluded his death to be from natural causes. Greece must have some amazingly quick labs/autopsies.
  • January 27, 2017 - Alexander Kadakin, Russian Ambassador to India. He died of heart failure following what has been reported as a "brief illness." This would qualify as perhaps the least suspicious of the deaths.
  • February 20, 2017 - Vitaly Churkin, Russian ambassador to the UN. Russia's official line is that he died of a heart attack while working at his New York office. The US State Department has instructed New York's medical examiner not to release their findings on cause of death.
  • March 21, 2017 - Nikolai Gorokhov, a lawyer for the family of Sergei Magnitsky, survived a fall from a fourth story window. Russian state media outlets report the incident as an accidental fall that Gorokhov suffered while trying to - get this - trying to move a bathtub into his apartment. He doesn't remember the incident, due to head trauma he suffered from hitting the ground at approximately the speed of four stories, but he says it was "no accident." At the time, Gorokhov was set to testify as a government witness in a massive fraud case originally brought to light by Magnitsky back in 2008.
  • This goes back to well before the time we're discussing, but it bears too much on the conversation to exclude: Sergei Magnitsky was arrested shortly after filing his complaints, spent about a year in a nasty little Russian prison, and days before the law required he be charged with a crime or released he was tied to his prison bed, tortured and beaten to death. In a surprise move, Vladimir Putin stated that Magnitsky had succumbed... to a heart attack. Come on. Try to be more original.
  • March 23, 2017 - Denis Voronenkov, former member of Russia's lower house of Parliament, expat Putin critic. He was shot several times in the head on the street outside a Kiev hotel by what the Ukrainian president characterized as a state-sponsored assassination. Surprise surprise, the Kremlin has dismissed this accusation as "absurd," even though he had reportedly received threats from the FSB (formerly the KGB). Following the shooting, the assassin was fatally wounded in a firefight with Voronenkov's bodyguard.
  • August 23, 2017 - Mirgayas Shirinsky, Russian Ambassador to Sudan. He was found in the pool at his home in Khartoum, with "evidence of an acute heart attack." While on the surface this is one of the least suspicious deaths of the lot, the "heart attack" thing raises my eyebrow more than a little.
To tackle the long and sordid list of suspicious deaths of Putin foes would take much more space than I've got time to fill here, but in light of the most recent poisoning in Salisbury I'll leave you with a teaser and a link to a couple of BuzzFeed investigative pieces on the subject.

November 5, 2015, Mikhail Lesin, a former Putin adviser and Russian state media executive was found bludgeoned to death in his Washington, D.C. hotel room. The death occurred the night before a planned meeting with DOJ officials to discuss the workings of RT, the Kremlin mouthpiece that Lesin founded. The investigation concluded that Lesin had died after getting drunk and falling, apparently a number of times, in his hotel room. Some solid reporting from BuzzFeed News goes into more depth on this subject. “Lesin was beaten to death" stated an FBI agent. "I would implore you to say as much. There seems to be an effort here to cover up that fact for reasons I can't get into. What I can tell you is that there isn’t a single person inside the bureau who believes this guy got drunk, fell down, and died. Everyone thinks he was whacked and that Putin or the Kremlin were behind it.”

The fourteen suspicious deaths on British soil that BuzzFeed detailed in this article are now under further investigation by the UK on the orders of Home Secretary Amber Rudd. She'll get back to us on what the findings detail, but circumstantially I'd say there's something rotten in Moscow.

Taken as a whole these deaths read like a systematic extermination of anyone unfortunate enough to have crossed Putin or his cronies. Assassination of expats or foreign nationals on sovereign soil is an act of war - one which all NATO allies would be obliged to enter into should evidence be presented that Russia was complicit in the commission thereof. Should that occur the question becomes "Does the West have the backbone to defend itself?"

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Life Comes at You Fast

Life comes at you fast. Just ask (former) Secretary of State Rex "The Environment" Tillerson, who was the latest in the Drumpfster Fire Administration to be shit-canned, and the highest ranking so far. It will be up to Robert Mueller to fire anyone higher up the chain... **cough cough, Trump, cough cough.

I give up.

Nothing to see here.

Trump didn't even have the decency (read: Balls) to fire Tillerson to his face. Rather, Rexie was alerted to his departure by Trump's tweet, was "unaware of the reason" and had planned to stick around in the State Department for as long as Mueller lets Trump stay. I'm sure this decision's got nothing to do with:
  • Tillerson calling Trump a "fucking moron." Not to be outdone, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster referred to his boss as an "idiot," and a "dope" with the intelligence of a "kindergartener."
  • Tillerson advocating for talks with North Korea (ironically, now that such talks are tentatively scheduled, Lil Hands has determined that Rex has to go)
  • Tillerson publicly disagreeing with Trump on; the decision to leave the Paris Climate Accord, the Iran nuclear agreement, the Venezuela sanctions, the Charlottesville rally, the Afghan war strategy, the Qatar issue, etc.
  • Tillerson expressing shock (and accepting the intel that the Kremlin is responsible) over the recent poisoning of a former Russian spy in the UK.
  • Tillerson calling out Russian interference in US elections and warning that they will continue to meddle.
  • Tillerson calling out Russia for their war crimes in Syria.

The list goes on this way. In retrospect it's shocking that Trump hadn't fired him before. I'd say that I was surprised that Rex didn't resign earlier, but he's one of the few Trump appointees who seemed to take his job seriously, even if he was grossly under-qualified. I think he knows how important it is to have someone with brains and a level head in the position of chief diplomat for the United States. Too bad that Trump handicapped him from the beginning - refusing to fill important positions in the State Department with anyone who had disagreed with him or been critical of him in the run-up to the election. I say this with the caveat that I was completely opposed to his original appointment, there in the early days of this "Administration" when it wasn't yet clear exactly the kind of shit-show amateur hour we were about to be knee deep in. Once the situation became clear anyone with any level of competency at all became vitally important to maintaining some semblance of effective governing from the Executive Branch. Mind you, it's been difficult to find anyone with the proper resume to fill all the vacant positions who also fits the "never said a critical thing about Boss Baby" mold.

It's worth pointing out that Tillerson's rather unambiguously forceful remarks about Russian involvement in the (latest) UK poisoning came just hours before Trump "decided" to replace him as Secretary of State. I use quotation marks because it seems more like Putin's decision than Trump's. I assume that Komrade Putin made his displeasure with Rex known to Donny sometime over the course of the evening, strongly urging his Apprentice to show Tillerson the door. Since the NRA has just shown us all how much backbone Trump has (none) it should come as no surprise that Vlad's orders were implemented so quickly.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Charmed Life

I was just reading an(other) article about a school shooting, this one at Florida State University. In this case only the shooter was killed, at least as of this writing. The perpetrator had been posting about things religious and also about his theory that the government is reading our minds, etc., which begs the question: If the government is reading your mind, don't you suppose they'd know you were about to go full Postal and shoot up a library? (Assuming we're still allowed to reference "going postal.")

But here's what really stuck with me:

According to a USA Today piece on the shooting, Jason Derfuss, assumed to be a student at FSU, was near the shooter when he opened fire, not realizing until later that one of his books took a bullet for him.

 "He was about five feet from me, but he hit my books. I assumed I wasn't a target, I assumed I was fine. The truth is I was almost killed tonight and God intervened."

Or maybe it was Tolstoy's wordiness.

We've all heard sports figures thanking their deity when they perform well, and we kind of shrug it off, even if we aren't religiously inclined. It seems harmless enough, even funny. As if a god that supposedly lets us live our lives unhindered while exercising our him-given free will would step in now and again to help some dipshit throw a ball, catch a ball, hit a ball, etc., but not to stop millions from starving, dying of disease, or being murdered.

But then somebody makes the kind of statement that Mr. Derfuss made and people kind of nod. "I can see that. God must have special plans for this kid. It just wasn't his time."

No whammies, no whammies, no whammies...
Bullshit. I call shenanigans. I understand the feeling of a charmed existence, as I too have had near misses in my life. There was the car accident, there were the two times I had guns pointed at me, there was the time at the mall when someone started shooting only twenty or so feet from me, bullets going all over the damn place. I felt lucky, charmed, maybe even blessed. But I grew out of those feelings, as the problems with such sentiments are many: Please go tell the parents of the Sandy Hook victims that God just didn't see the benefit in intervening on behalf of their children. Tell the spouses and children of all the military casualties that God was too busy honing a child-beating Adrian Petersen's running skills to stop the slaughter.

You see the problem with being "blessed?" The law of opposites comes into play. If you're blessed, then necessarily all the people who didn't survive the (fill-in-the-blank) shooting were damned. "That was their purpose here on Earth, to die a dog's death at the hands of some crazed asshole." Doesn't sound very nice when you put it that way. How about: "Your child/spouse/parent simply wasn't that important." Still kind of nasty. "God's plan involved them only peripherally. Hope you hadn't gotten too attached."

None of those are really any good. So maybe we should just fall back on the old stand-by:

"Your puny human mind couldn't possibly fathom the vast greatness of His plan."

Right. Got it.